You're down a touchdown, with just under a minute left before halftime. You've got no timeouts left, but your QB is connecting with the receivers on every play. You cross the 50, and get stuffed just outside field goal range. It's 4th and short, and it's the last play of the half. What do you do?

It's an eternal question, not just for Madden players, but for football fans as a whole, and it relates to the two ways people tend to play sports games. My brother played varsity football in high school, and although I played sports, football was never one I played very seriously. We both loved, and continue to love, Madden. But it's obvious that when we match up, we're playing in different ways.

See, you can play Madden, and other sports games, either as a video game, or as a football game. When I played Madden in the past, I used to look for exploits— ways to work outside the game's rules to gain an advantage. It's like finding that one place in a sidescroller where you can take potshots at a boss without ever being hit. Sometimes it would work. Sometimes, when I went 4-vert on 3rd and short, one of my receivers would break away from his man and I'd score.

But my brother would always win. Because Madden (and Fifa, and NBA live, and most other sports games) skills don't translate from other games.

You get good at Madden by understanding the game of football. You learn that you can't blitz eight every time. You learn how to split zone coverage, how to defend against a pitch, when to drop the safeties back to guard against the long ball and when to pinch the linemen to stop the halfback from running up the gut.

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My brother already knew all of that. So while I might get lucky and drop a miraculous pass right into the hands of a quick receiver, most of the time I'd throw into coverage or get blasted behind the line because I would rely on one play.

Most video games involve one strategy that evolves over the course of the game. For example, Halo's strategy can be simplified down to something like, find a vantage point, fire upon enemies, get to cover, heal, and repeat. Yeah, it's more nuanced than that, but the game never changes on you. If you get really good at all of that, you're golden.

In Madden, as in football, you can't really do that. If you get really good at the HB Draw play, it might be good for a few yards early on in the game, but sooner or later, the defense will catch on and start stacking the box, taking your running back down well behind the line of scrimmage.

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Well, shit.

What now?

This is where watching football (or, again, other sports) is almost essential in understanding and mastering these sports games. You get to understand game flow. You realize that hey, maybe it's not always a bad idea to call a run play on 3rd and 8 if you think all the linebackers are going to drop back into coverage.

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The upshot of all of this is that in any given sports game, there's always a glitch or two. I remember talking to my brother about all the scrubs who would call this one specific play that would lock the opposing team's linemen so that the running back was pretty much guaranteed a first down every play. That's the logical extension of the way I used to play Madden— as a gamer first, and as a sports fan second.

But understanding the game of football extends to a deep, deep enjoyment of the video game. There's this feeling you get when you call the exact right defensive play, because you predict exactly what the offense will do. You've earned that sack on your terms. And it was fucking difficult. It came from hours upon hours of experience watching and playing football.

And that's why my brother will probably always be better at Madden than me, and why most pro athletes are actually pretty damn good at the video games based on their sports, even if they're garbage at all the other ones they own. They know the game, literally, inside and out.

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EDIT: I should probably mention that another reason my brother will always be better than me at Madden is his mad user pick and truck stick skillz.